Today, January 22nd, is the birthday of Robert E. Howard, chief among my writing influences.
A Texan and a writer for the pulps in the 1930’s, Howard is best remembered for having created the character of Conan The Barbarian, represented to the public in one good movie and two abyssmal ones (and a TV show barely worth mentioning). He also created King Kull, Breckenridge Elkins, Bran Mak Morn, and my personal favorites, Solomon Kane and Cormac Mac Art.
Howard was a writer with an unsurpassed ability to churn out visceral, kinetic action. Consider this passage from his ultimate Conan tale, The Hour of The Dragon –
“By Mitra, it is the king!” swore Tarascus. He cast a swift look about him, and laughed. “That other was a jackal in his harness! In, dogs, and take his head!”
The three soldiers–men-at-arms wearing the emblem of the royal guards– rushed at the king, and one felled the squire with a blow of a mace. The other two fared less well. As the first rushed in, lifting his sword, Conan met him with a sweeping stroke that severed mail-links like cloth, and sheared the Nemedian’s arm and shoulder clean from his body. His corpse, pitching backward, fell across his companion’s legs. The man stumbled, and before he could recover, the great sword was through him.
Conan wrenched out his steel with a racking gasp, and staggered back against the tent-pole. His great limbs trembled, his chest heaved, and sweat poured down his face and neck. But his eyes flamed with exultant savagery and he panted: “Why do you stand afar off, dog of Belverus? I can’t reach you; come in and die!”
Or this, from one of my personal favorites, the weird western The Horror From The Mound –
Through darting jets and licking tongues of flames they reeled and rolled like a demon and a mortal warring on the fire-lanced floors of hell. And in the growing tumult of the flames, Brill gathered himself for one last volcanic burst of frenzied strength. Breaking away and staggering up, gasping and bloody, he lunged blindly at the foul shape and caught it in a grip not even the vampire could break. And whirling his fiendish assailant bodily on high, he dashed him down across the uptilted edge of the fallen table as a man might break a stick of wood across his knee. Something cracked like a snapping branch and the vampire fell from Brill’s grasp to writhe in a strange broken posture on the burning floor. Yet it was not dead, for its flaming eyes still burned on Brill with a ghastly hunger, and it strove to crawl toward him with its broken spine, as a dying snake crawls.
Howard never lived to see his own legacy. On June 11 Howard left his mother’s deathbed, went to his car, took a .380 Colt automatic from the glove box, and shot himself in the head. He was thirty years old.
I really believe had he lived he would not be much more well known and highly regarded than he is among the public at large. Had he had time to develop his craft, I think he would be as prestigious an author at Cormac McCarthy whose own hypnotic, violent prose is at least as affecting
Anyway, happy birthday, Bob.
by Robert E. Howard
Red leaned his elbows upon the table and cursed. The candle guttered low. The bottle was empty, and a slow fire coiled in our brains–the fire which devours and consumes and destroys but never leaps into full wild flame.
I looked at Red with bleared eyes. He hid his face in his hands. He was thinking of a woman he knew. The cards, greasy with handling and stained with whiskey and candle tallow, lay scattered between us. The desire for gambling was gone, and there was no more whiskey.
“Cheer up, Red,” I said. “Listen–I’ll tell you: Somewhere in the world the sun is coming up like a red dragon to shine on a gilded pagoda; somewhere the bleak stars are gleaming on the white sands where a magic caravan is sleeping out the ages. Somewhere the night wind is blowing through the grass of a mysterious grave. Somewhere there is a gossamer sailed ship carving a wake of silver foam across the dark blue of the Mediterranean. This isn’t all, Red.”
“Oh, Christ,” he groaned, reaching for the empty bottle, “I wish I had a drink.”